It is frequently offered as evidence of our atomised society that a group of people at a gathering rarely know a song in common, and will end up stumbling through a watery version of 'Jingle Bells' when called on to sing a song. How much better it would be if the group could perform, in a chorus of air guitar, the extravagant solo from 'Hotel California'. Almost everyone would know it, for no band has more wholly captured the easy listening hearts of the Western world than the Eagles.
The chattering classes love to loathe the country-rock mega band that from 1972 to 1980 brought us such classics as 'Tequila Sunrise' and 'Life in the Fast Lane'. In this Researcher's years as a (sometimes closet) fan, it's been discovered that the Eagles are a powerful, polarising force. Although many people will lunge for the 'off' button at the first soulful wink of 'Lying Eyes', others will joyfully crank up the volume, intoning nasally along with every line. A simple Masonic-type test to discover a follow Eagles-lover is to drop casually into the conversation the phrase 'He was a hot headed man...' If the response comes, perhaps hushed, even whispered, '... he was brutally handsome/she was terminally pretty', you'll know you've found a soul mate.
As in the Bible or the works of Shakespeare, every nuance of human experience finds expression in the Eagles' twangy oeuvre. From the seedy decadence of 'Mirrors on the ceiling/Pink champagne on ice' to the simple beauty of 'I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight', or the historical realism of 'James Dean, James Dean/Bought it sight unseen' to the poignant tragedy of 'Desperado', every human emotion felt by a sensitive redneck has been put into words by these harmonising home-on-the-range boys.
The Love Affair Begins
The Eagles were the preserve of those young men and women known now as 'bogans', then as 'bodgies'. They could readily be identified by their dress: tight black Levis for the guys, with grey padded zip-up shoes for nightclubbing; 'bubblegum' jeans and crochet moccasins for the girls.
Whether you're stealing them, driving them fast, or having sex in their back seats, cars are a vital part of the bodgie lifestyle. From 'Take It Easy': 'It's a girl my lord/In a flat bed Ford' to the sustained highway imagery of 'Life in the Fast Lane', motor vehicles and the Eagles are inextricably linked.
It's not really surprising to find that the members of the Eagles epitomised bodgie values. If you haven't read Marc Eliot's To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, you probably don't realise that the band members were part of a close-knit circle of LA musos known as 'The Avocado Mafia'. Yes, one word from 'Don' Henley, and you were guacamole. Other little-known gems include the fact that guitarist Joe Walsh once carved 'Party Till Ya Puke' into a painting; and the revelation that Glenn Frey's nostrils were surgically reconstructed with Teflon to mend the ravages of a rampant cocaine habit. And you thought only the music had a non-stick surface.
Marc Eliot's bold linguistic adventure follows the Eagles 'from the first down-shift in the speed zone to the final grassy rev down memory lane'. With motoring analogies like that, he could almost be the missing Eagle. His prose rises to a poignant peak when he notes that 'no matter how fast they drove, they could never quite lose the reflection that tailed them in the rear-view: the image of their own heated youth, already exhausted by their high-speed, chrome-dipped, super-charged, and eternally conflicted souls'.
Hotel California: Best-known Track
'Hotel California' is undeniably the best-known Eagles track, although the version you're most likely to have heard lately is its resurrection by the Gypsy Kings. The Eagles' songs were anthems of belonging for a group of non-conformists who, like most young rebels, were obsessed with fitting in with each other.
And The Missing Song Lyric?
According to The Straight Dope, a website dedicated to dispelling urban myths and solving urban mysteries, the smell rising up through the air in Hotel California is that of colitas, the Spanish word for tails, or little buds. Yes, it's that 'Eau de' whiffed at parties and rock concerts. Whether you inhale or not, it smells like youth spirit, '70s style.